Reza, happy with the archery action of the last story, asked, “Abbu, does your tale also have the same fighting that Ammi’s tale had?”
“Wait and see,” Abbu said. After popping a few nuts into his mouth, he began the most famous folktale of Pakistan.
* * *
Roughly six centuries ago, in Takht Hazara, a village in the Punjab near present-day Sargodha, there lived a young man named Dheedo Ranjha. The youngest of eight brothers, Ranjha was his father’s favorite and able to do whatever he pleased, even if that meant playing his flute all day long. One unfortunate day, his father died, leaving Ranjha and his brothers to divide the inherited land. Ranjha’s brothers thought he was an idle fool who spent his time playing his flute, so they allotted him an unfruitful piece. Angry, Ranjha left, following the Chenab River south, in search of something more in life.
One night, Ranjha decided to take shelter in a masjid, or mosque, and continue his journey in the morning. To pass the time before sleep, he played his flute. The maulwi of the masjid heard the music of the flute. He located the intruder and told him that flute-playing was not Islamic, and prohibited in a masjid. In response, Ranjha told him that his innocent tune was hardly a sin compared to some acts that maulwis commit in the name of Islam. Speechless, the maulwi had no other choice but to let Ranjha stay the night.
In the morning, Ranjha wandered on to the village of Jhang. There he saw a large field with cows and lush with crops. He approached the owner for work. The owner, Chuchak Sayyal, chief of the Sayyal clan, agreed to Ranjha’s offer and led him to the stables where he would stay as a hired hand.
Now enters our beautiful heroine. Heer. Even her name tells of her nature. Heer, meaning diamond, was the daughter of Chuchak Sayyal. Pages and pages of words could not give justice to her beauty. She had a face like the full moon, eyes that sparkled like precious gems, teeth so white like the petals of the jasmine flower, lips red like rubies, a nose sharp like the end of Hussain’s sword. She was delicate, yet strong.
She studied the curious new hired hand, Ranjha. His long hair, unruly physique and melodic flute-playing, attracted Heer. She was in love with him. The feelings were mutual. How could he stop his heart from falling in love with someone as beautiful as she? Their love flourished, as did the crops. For a few years, they loved without obstacles. It was pure and true.
Unfortunately, things cannot always remain how they are, good or bad. Kaido, uncle to Heer, spotted the lovers one day. He went to Heer's parents to discuss the matter.
Heer’s parents confronted her, but she did not heed them. She was in love with Ranjha and he would be the only man for her. Dismayed, Heer’s parents called the qazi who judged matters of the village using Sharia law. When he reminded her of what is expected of good Muslim girls, such as respect for parents and their honor, she only grew more adamant. She replied that as drugs cannot be taken away from an addict, Ranjha could not be stolen from Heer. Only Allah could change their destiny now. Looking at her hand, she saw the scar where she had once burnt herself with an iron while recounting the countless memories of her Ranjha. She commented, “True love is like a mark that a hot iron burns onto the skin or like a spot on a mango. They never go away.”
Heer’s parents saw no hope. Since she was firm in her decision, they were left with no other choice than to force her marriage to Saida Khairra.
On the day of the wedding ceremony Heer was asked by the qazi if she accepted this proposal before signing the nikaah papers affirming the union. She clearly stated “no.” Her father, frightened by dishonor, quickly signed the nikaah papers anyway. Heer proclaimed that she was already married to Ranjha, with the nikaah signed with Allah and His prophets as witnesses. No one listened to her and she was taken to Saida’s house in another village.
The ill-fated Ranjha heard about his Heer’s equally bad fortune. With nothing left to do, he wandered into the forest. There he met with spiritual men called jogis and decided to join them. He could not bear to think of his Heer in some other man’s arms. Traveling with the jogis, the ash-covered Ranjha with pierced ears (signs of being a jogi) went from village to village, begging with his begging bowl.
One fateful day, he happened to knock on Saida’s house. Sehti, Heer’s sister-in-law, answered and saw the handsome, young jogi. Sehti had heard about Heer’s love. She disagreed with her brother’s sin he committed by carrying out an unwilling marriage. It was not Islamic, haram. Taking this as her chance to correct her brother’s follies, she helped Heer escape with Ranjha.
Ranjha and Heer escaped but were caught by the Raja. He heard their tale and called for a qazi to deal with matters accordingly. It was decided. Heer was taken back to Saida’s home. Ranjha, furious, cursed the villagers reminding them that Allah does not stand for injustice. Almost immediately a fire lit up the town, frightening all. Seeing the fire upon his land as an act of Allah, the scared Raja decided to let Heer and Ranjha go happily together.
If only our story ended here. But what of Heer’s parents and their honor? If Heer and Ranjha were allowed to marry, then what kind of example would that set for the rest of the village?
Heer’s parents plotted to avenge their honor on the wedding night.
To celebrate the ceremony, they sent a basketful of laddu sweets laced with poison to the newlyweds. With such sweetness came such poison. But it was too late, Heer had taken a bite from the round ball of sticky laddu and fell, motionless. Ranjha, realizing what had happened, took the half-eaten laddu and ate bitterly, dying next to his beloved Heer.
Heer Ranjha. Websource: BonzaSheila
* * *
“Laddu?” asked my husband with some sadness in his voice. “I will never think of my favorite sweetmeat the same.”
My mother laughed at his comment while getting up to get some more chilgozeh from the kitchen.
“Abbu, was Heer really as pretty as they say she was?” asked a quiet voice. Everyone looked and there was Mehru, wide-eyed and clutching her teddy bear, Baalu.
“Yes, meri jaan,” my father replied. Always quite the charmer he added, “But nothing compared to you.”
My mother came back with some more nuts and fresh chai. It was almost bedtime for the children. I got up to herd them but my mother stopped me.
She said, “The night is still young and the children are eagerly listening. There is another story I have to tell.”
She began to recount another tale of love in the tale of Sohni and her Mahiwal.
Author's Note: Here I relate the most famous Punjabi love story that can be seen everywhere in Pakistan and India as well as their neighboring countries. This story is known throughout the land and can often be seen in popular culture. The famous Punjabi poet Waris Shah tells the story of Heer Ranjha. However, there is some speculation about the actual ending of the story. Some people say that the original tale ended with the lovers getting a happy ending. Waris Shah's version does not allow this to happen. Because of this, Heer and Ranjha have made their way into the Hall of Fame of star-crossed lovers. As in life, things are never what they seem. This story is not just a love story. It is said that this story exemplifies the quest to find and understand God. This can be seen in Ranjha's character, the jogi who searches endlessly for his Heer. At the end during the wedding ceremony, when he thinks he finally has her, she escapes his hands via death. Just when you think you understand God, there is something that will test you again. There is so much to this story. It is said that Waris Shah spent pages and pages describing intricate details of both of the principal characters. He wrote them with such passion and depth that to this day, they and their love are immortal.